A Factual Look at the Red Light Camera Program in Kansas City, MO

As Barbie once said, math is tough!

For red light camera companies, the truth is even tougher.

A recent story touted the success of the red light camera program in Kansas City, MO. :

Report Shows Red Light Cameras Reduce Accidents

Reading this story, it sounds like they are really working: “The study says the number of accidents connected to the red light running dropped by 65 percent in the first year and 54 percent the second year cameras started monitoring the intersections.”

These numbers are far from the truth when you analyze the crash data.

Upon further reading, it turns out the police study had all of its data omitted, and the camera company wrote the executive summary. The old adage of the fox guarding the hen house applies here. Fortunately, someone got the full report and posted it online (log in required; click here for my downloaded copy on this site).

As I’ve written about in the past here, I think it is incumbent on our media to investigate something as controversial as these automated for-profit traffic cameras. Yet most stories I read (and I read a lot, keep reading) are basically publishing government / camera company statements and news releases.

I’ve also asserted the true gauge of reducing red light running crashes are how many were there before the cameras, and how many have there been since the cameras- and this is something no one wants to talk about. Just read the media story and contrast it with the blog post. In Kansas City, they now have three (3) years of data: the year prior to cameras, the first year of the cameras, and the second year of the cameras. What follows is my analysis of this data from the point of view of a police supervisor- one that reviewed crash reports and that has investigated crashes to understand what is and is not relevant.

I’ll warn you now that what follows is a great deal of numbers and analysis. If you wish to skip to the conclusion, it is towards the bottom of the page- look for the red text.

I’ll be kind and overlook the fact that rear-end crashes went up. The report only shows three types of crashes:

  • Right angle,
  • Rear end, and
  • Other

Here is where my experience comes into play. It doesn’t matter if two cars collide in Missouri or Miami, FL. The dynamics and causation can be classified in the same manner. A rear end crash cannot by its nature involve a red light violation. A right angle crash can and usually does. This is the type that takes place within the intersection and is usually the result of someone running the light (a left turn on a green light would be classified the same depending on how the signal operates, and may not have been the result of a red light runner). Note that this type of crash is not identified in the report summary. I will include my own summary at the end of this to make this easier to understand.

“Other” crashes is just too broad of a term to apply here. My analysis therefore will focus on the right angle collisions, as they are the best barometer for red light violations. The cameras are supposedly there due to red light violations, so this is indeed an apples to apples analysis.

The first intersection is listed on page 5. They have findings for the 1-year period of time before cameras, then the first year when the cameras were up, and then the second year afterwards.

1-year prior to cameras: 6

First year of the cameras: 9

Second year of the cameras: 8

This is the format I will use for the other intersections: the year prior-the first year-and the second year, so you will see a series of three numbers. I’ll tally them up at the end, and will place all of this in a data table format.

For this intersection, after the cameras there was a 50% increase in right angle crashes. The year following, there was only one less than the peak amount- which was still a 33% increase over the period of time before the cameras.

On page 6, the next intersection, the numbers were 2-1-2, so in the 2nd year there was no change from no cameras.

On page 7, the next intersection, 4-3-7. Again a huge increase vs. not having a camera.

On page 8, finally a reduction: 9-6-4.

On page 9, 5-7-10. They doubled the second year after cameras.

On page 10, 4-7-3, so there was a spike the 1st year and then about the same the 2nd year.

On page 11, 10-8-8, another reduction (2).

On page 12, 5-2-9. This is a perfect example of why cameras will never work. You have a huge reduction the 1st year, and then a huge increase (over 400%) the 2nd year. You cannot predict where impaired or inattentive drivers will be- and cameras won’t stop them.

On page 13, 12-7-11. Again, a good reduction in the 1st year, and then business as usual the 2nd year.

On page 14, 14-13-6. Not much the 1st year, and a good reduction the 2nd year. Just the opposite of page 13.

On page 15, 3-5-8. Going up again.

On page 16, 0-0-4. No wrecks for two years, one w/o cameras and one with, and then a whole bunch the second year.

On page 17, 4-3-0. Similar situation as page 14.

On page 18, 4-1-1, a consistent reduction.

On page 19, 8-13-12, huge increases again.

On page 20, 7-5-4, decent reduction.

On page 21, 4-5-1, again a page 14 situation.

Crunching all of these numbers, there were 101 right angle crashes the year prior to the cameras. The first camera year, there were 95 (a reduction of 6 or 6.3%, not 65%), and the second camera year, they increased from there to 98, only three fewer (3%, not 54%) than with no cameras at all. Have red light cameras reduced crashes in Kansas City? Numerically, since they were installed, yes, by 6 and then by 3 from the pre-camera total of 101. In Actuality, the answer is no, as the numbers above indicate one year you may have none and then you may have 4. Some of these crashes may not have been a red light violation- i.e. turning left on a green light. There is no telling what the factors were in all of these crashes- but it is very clear red light cameras have not made a significant reduction in red light running crashes.

This is in direct conflict with what was reported.

I cannot stress how important it is to have this actual data available to make an informed decision on these devices. Is it any wonder the camera company wanted to leave out the numbers? Do you trust the automated for-profit camera companies? I for one do not. We need them out of Florida, and our 2013 Motorist Rights bill will give them the green light to do so.

Table data:

Page Before Camera First Year w/ Camera Second Year w/ Camera
5 6 9 8
6 2 1 2
7 4 3 7
8 9 6 4
9 5 7 10
10 4 7 3
11 10 8 8
12 5 2 9
13 12 7 11
14 14 13 6
15 3 5 8
16 0 0 4
17 4 3 0
18 4 1 1
19 8 13 12
20 7 5 4
21 4 5 1
Totals 101 95 98

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